With the end of the year approaching, some employers and health practitioners may feel the need to tell employees to use up their benefits, but Rob Van De Cappelle, national benefits consultant at Cowan Insurance Group, cautions against this approach.

“I tell employers and employees the benefits plan is there to keep you healthy and to use, but it’s not there to abuse. I have back pain and when I get my [paramedical] allotment . . . I plan it out so I can maintain a somewhat healthy back through the year. It doesn’t mean when I flip the calendar to December I think, ‘I have four massages left, I better book them all now.’”

He recognizes ‘healthy’ means different things to different people, noting if an employee is going through a stressful period and they want to go for a few massages in a month to relax, it would be an appropriate use of benefits. But he says it doesn’t make sense if they’re going for the massages because they don’t want the money to disappear.

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“Every employer has a bucket of money they use for the entire budget and, within that big bucket, every employee has their own little bucket. It’s not an unlimited budget. So if you have to use more of it to pay for benefits because everybody in the company got to December and used everything up, then there may not be as many funds for other areas. There’s only so much money and it can only be used for so many things.”

Van De Cappelle notes communication is key to avoiding this phenomenon and the resulting premium increases, adding it’s important for employers to clarify the plan is there for employees and their dependants to maintain their health and well-being when they need it.

“Many employees, by no fault of their own, don’t understand how group benefits work. So we just need to communicate better and help employees understand usage equals premiums. There’s a target-loss ratio here and when you cut into that rates have to go up. No different than [any other business]. If your supplies go up substantially you’re going to have to raise your prices to keep your income at the level you deem necessary.”

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